Americans celebrated our founding 50 years ago. Now, even that is too divisive

Fifty years ago today, America was two years out from its 200th birthday. Americans were gearing up to party like it was 1776. Patriotic fervor dominated the media even though the actual celebration was still 24 months away.

CBS embraced the spirit of America by launching a program that lasted nearly two-and-a-half years called the “Bicentennial Minutes.” Every night from July 4, 1974, till New Year’s Eve 1976, America’s leading men and women gave us a 60-second history lesson. 

Each one began with, “Two hundred years ago today,” and taught the glory of the Founding Fathers and this miracle republic we call the United States. (Saying that “R” word today gets you unfairly bashed by the historically illiterate at CNN.)

Network newsmen like CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather (he was still a journalist, then) were joined by notables from almost every imaginable field of endeavor. Each segment began with, “That’s the way it was,” a nod to Cronkite who ended all his newscasts by saying, “And that’s the way it is.”

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Many of the minutemen and women were drawn from popular TV shows – both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy of “Star Trek” fame, for example. 

Or Carroll O’Connor from “All in the Family.” Hollywood legends like Bing Crosby and Olivia de Havilland were joined by the likes of Gen. Omar N. Bradley, evangelist Billy Graham, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The actual 200th anniversary minute was delivered by first lady Betty Ford. Senators, congressmen and activists were welcomed into the CBS parade of stars, each highlighting a tiny sliver of our nation’s history.

Fifty years later, it’s hard to believe such a thing was possible. We stand, as Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided.” Polls tell us this is the most unpopular election the nation has had in a very long time. Both former President Trump and what remains of President Biden are incredibly unpopular. We are so lost in the current fight that there’s almost no one in either party looking ahead to the big birthday bash in 2026. 

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America is in a malaise, a term that hung around the presidency of Jimmy Carter soon after the bicentennial. Left and right fight over the path to the future on everything from education to foreign policy as our adversaries arm themselves to fight against freedom.

But when the bicentennial was approaching, the thing we didn’t fight about was the founding of our country. And so, hundreds of celebrities from every area of achievement pulled together to tell those stories of hope, bravery and patriotism. 

And all this was happening as the country was finally ending an unpopular war in Vietnam and tearing itself apart once more with the scandal of Watergate. President Richard Nixon resigned barely a month after the broadcasts began, yet members of both political parties proudly took part.

The minutes were dominated by the heroes of the revolution. Names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason were prominent. Today, outlets like The Washington Post treat them as pariahs, not founders, and deride them as “enslavers.” Others would whine that we were somehow colonizers. 

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Pro-Hamas, antisemitic thugs march in our streets. The only differences between them and their goose-stepping brethren are the outfits they wear. The elite left tears down statues of the founders, stripping our nation of its history.

In schools, students are taught that America is evil, a nation founded in slavery. They downplay how as many as 750,000 may have died expunging that evil and uniting America once more. They bash our nation for aiding Israel, the only actual democracy in the Mideast. 

Not everyone has forgotten about the 250th – our semiquincentennial. Admittedly, the word doesn’t roll off the tongue like bicentennial. There is the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, which was established by Congress. 

I wish them the best, but they aren’t the media. And without the power of legacy outlets singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” every night, the effort might fall flat.

The minutes and our famous minutemen and women made sure our bicentennial got the recognition it deserved. They celebrated our heroes and, as then-President Gerald Ford said in the last minute, it was time to “move forward together into our future.” If we could manage that goal, despite our many differences, it would be the true spirit of ’76.

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